Tell it to the Marines.
That was basically the angry reply on Monday of Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to a comment by retired Marine Col. Ariel Querubin that Marines on a test mission were not supposed to engage the enemy in battle.
Bautista brushed aside Querubin’s statement to the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Sunday suggesting that the killings of seven Marines on Saturday in Patikul, Sulu province, by Abu Sayyaf bandits might have been caused by a breach in military protocol.
Like any other soldier, the Marines are trained to engage and fire back at the enemy when the situation calls for it, Bautista said during a visit at the wake of the fallen soldiers at Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.
“You cannot discount the possibility of an encounter whether you are in training or not. That is a possibility and that is what we prepare for,” he said. He ruled out an AFP review of the training doctrine of the Marine reconnaissance team despite Saturday’s incident, in which seven Abu Sayyaf men were also killed.
“That is part of the curriculum of the training of the Marines, of the Force Recon,” Bautista stressed.
Bautista said most of Querubin’s statements were “unfounded.”
“I don’t think that is the real situation. Colonel Querubin has long been retired,” Bautista told reporters.
In the interview with the Inquirer, Querubin said the members of the First Reconnaissance Battalion led by 2nd Lt. Alfredo Lorin VI, who were sent on a test mission as part of their training, should not have fought it out with the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Lorin, a 26-year-old graduate of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 2011, was killed in the encounter.
“We still haven’t learned our lessons,” Querubin said, pointing out that Marines belonging to recon teams were deployed only to “gather data and pass the data to the operating troops.”
Querubin is a former superintendent of the Philippine Marine Corps Training Center. The member of the PMA Class 1979 was awarded the Medal of Valor—the highest military honor for bravery in combat—for leading the liberation of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2000.
He also led a military operation that killed Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya in a sea encounter off Zamboanga del Norte in 2002.
Bautista said an investigation into Saturday’s incident had begun as part of the AFP’s standard operating procedure after a military operation “whether the outcome is positive or negative.”
“We conduct inquiries for the lessons we may learn out of these incidents. In fact, we document these and publish the lessons we learned,” he said.
Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano, the Philippine Navy chief, said the investigative team would “look into the exact reasons behind the event” and “correct and improve our doctrines as far as conducting our operations is concerned.”
The team left Zamboanga City Monday for Sulu, said Lt. Vladimir Cabrera, Marine spokesman.
The Navy chief said that while the slain Marines were on a test mission, they were all experienced soldiers. He said their deployment was part of their training to improve their skills as members of the elite team of the Marines.
“It is part of the training and skills requirement that we are trying to develop for all sailors and marines. They must have the necessary skills in order to do what they are supposed to be doing,” Alano said.
The Navy chief said the two teams of the Marine recon unit were actually sent on Saturday to perform route security operations in Barangay Tugas in Patikul, Sulu, when a firefight broke out in a “meeting-encounter” with the Abu Sayyaf bandits.
“They were actually doing a route security preparing for the deployment of other follow-on forces. The incident happened actually within or near the vicinity of their main maneuvering base,” Alano said.
“Part of the standard procedures before you have a main body moving out to any destination maneuver [is to] make sure that the area is cleared. Now this forms part of the doctrines that we do as far as the conduct of operations is concerned.”—With reports from Julie S. Alipala and Jeofrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao